South Park Archaeology Project
History of archaeological investigations in South Park and the findings
We owe a debt of gratitude to our predecessors and pay our respects to them and the work they have done in South Park. The pioneering efforts of Renaud (a University of Denver professor) and his student Potts in the 30's and 40's forms the basis for the meager archaeological knowledge of South Park, and serves to whet our appetites to know more. From Renaud's work, we know of Folsom and later Plano period Paleoindian occupation. Beginning in the 70's, and dominating the archaeological scene up to the present, mainly Federal cultural resources management projects drove archaeological research. The first of these was related to the construction of Spinney Mountain Reservoir by Gillio, Scott, and Adams. Later in the decade, and continuing today, is the work of Kane and his colleagues at the Forest Service in support of timber sales, land exchanges, and other Federal activities. In the 80's and 90's, CRM work continued with proposed and actual developments; archaeological players included Jepson and colleagues at Colorado-Department of Transportation, the Weimers at the Bureau of Land Management, and others in the private sector, especially Tate.
Truly significant in the development of South Park archaeology have been the prehistoric syntheses (also known as contexts) first published in 1984 and completely re-written in 1999 by the Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists (CCPA) under the auspices of the Colorado State Historic Society and Colorado State Historic Preservation Office (copies of the 1999, The South Platte Context, are available from the CCPA web page at www.coloradoarchaeologists.org. The authors of the earlier 1984 volume, which discusses the South Park area, were Guthrie, Gadd, Johnson, Lischka. Authors of the most recent 1999 volume Gilmore, Tate, Chenault, Clark, McBride, and Wood deserve special recognition for their efforts. In addition, Assistant State Archaeologist Kevin Black has just completed a third year of field surveys in South Park at the Tomahawk State Wildlife Refuge; this coupled with his many years of mountain archaeology experience has provided exciting new information on South Park archaeology. The South Park Archaeological Project began field surveys in the summer of 2001. To date, hundreds of archaeological sites have been documented, including more than twenty that date to the Park's earliest Paleoindian cultural periods.
What is known about South Park Prehistory
Based on a computer search of the Colorado State files conducted by South Park Project personnel in January 2001 for Park County, only a total of 396 sites, from about 20,000 acres surveyed, were found to have been recorded. Included in this figure were prehistoric isolated finds (flakes, cores, projectile points, etc.) which are assigned site numbers. Isolated finds account for 156, or 39 %, of recorded sites in Park County. However, the above totals do not include sites recorded during Black's Avocational Archaeological Certification efforts on Reinecker Ridge during the 2000-2002 seasons.
Of the 396 sites only 13 Paleoindian (the earliest known presence of Native Americans in the Park) sites had been identified by January 2001. Of those, five were isolated finds. Only eighteen (18) sites for the following Archaic Stage had been identified in Park County.
From the limited information that exists, we know that Paleoindian people hunted in and occupied the territory. In fact, recent test excavations by University of Denver archaeologists at the Columbine Ranch site produced Jimmy Allen style (possibly Mountain Paleoindian) points. In addition, Renaud (1945) identified a Folsom site in the vicinity of Red Hill Pass (or Red Hill Gap) approximately 10 miles southwest of the Columbine Ranch site.
As with Paleoindian components, Archaic (and other cultural period) sites are under-represented in the Park's archaeological record. A general trend, broadly evident from the Colorado State files database, is that site numbers increase through time, suggesting a slow increase in site densities from 11,800 B.P. through 1,800 B.P. However, despite that general trend, the data are so scant that reliable comparison, interpretation, and prediction for South Park archaeological patterns have been nearly impossible.
One of the few synthetic analyses of Park County archaeological properties is Black's (1993) research on stone tool quarry sites in Colorado, there are five quarry sites located in Park or adjacent counties. As Black points out, this type of research (the identification of source areas) is critical to determining patterns of movement of people, trade, and lithic technology. Investigation of State records and BLM and Forest Service files suggest that prehistoric site density in South Park could be relatively high - 20 to 25 sites per square mile. And some specific areas, located where water and other natural resources are highest, could have even higher site densities. Black (personal communication) has been finding site densities in excess of 30 sites per square mile, and SPArP field surveys have identified areas where site densities range from 80 to more than 130 sites per square mile !!!